MAUI TRAVEL GUIDE
I just poured myself a glass of Maui Blanc (a little sweet for my taste, but amazing how it brings me right back to Maui!), and I'm writing this from snowy Minneosta as the temps dip into the negative. While I love the four seasons of Minnesota, I definitely enjoy tropical weather too, and my hubby and have had a running joke (ever since our Hawaiian honeymoon), that we're moving to Maui.
We've been lucky enough to visit Maui a few times since, and I would be perfectly content if that trend continued. There's something magical about this diverse island.
WHERE TO STAY:
There are a million options on Maui. Peronsally, we've leaned towards rental homes (vs. resorts) mainly for cost saving reasons, but also the last copule times we've gone have been with one or two other couples and a rental home works out nicely. I think more important than the type of accomodation, is where you stay.
There are two main tourist areas in Maui: The south shore of Kihei and Wailea, and the west shore of Lahaina and Kaanapali. I find the south shore to be more the more convenient location. If you're doing the typical tourist activities like Haleakala Crater, and the Road to Hana, the south shore is closer. It's also considerbly closer to the airport. Kihei isn't the prettiest town with it's plethora of strip malls, but if you want a more upscale vibe, Wailea has beautiful resorts (think the Riviera Maya of Mexico) and close proximity to some of the best beaches, like Makenna. On past trips we stayed at this modern and comfortable condo with two other couples and this affordable beach-front chain hotel and enjoyed both. We've never stayed on the west shore, as the location wasn't as appealing for our needs, though everyone has different tastes, and I know people who loved staying on the west shore.
All this being said, the rugged north shore is my favorite place to stay on Maui. Paia in particular is a sleepy little town with tons of restaurants and boutiques. Not to mention a natural foods grocery store so you can save a little money and cook meals on your own. The entire town is walkable and just feels much cozier than the other "resort" towns. Paia has a definite hippie vibe. You’ll see lots of locals seemingly aimlessly wandering the streets, tanned and barefoot; and you’ll smell marijuana everywhere you go. It’s all part of the charm. Plus, Paia is centrally located - in my opinion, the best location on Maui. It’s only 10 minutes to the airport, the beginning of the Road to Hana, as close as most tourists will get to Haleakala crater, and pretty easy access to both the west (30-40 minute drive) and south shores (20-30 minute drive). When we stayed in Paia, we traveled with another couple and stayed at these two adorable, neighboring tiki huts smack dab in the middle of town. When we return to Maui, I’d love to stay at the Paia Inn. If you had a group this beachfront house would be amazing. If we decided to go the fancy-pants resort route, I would stay on the south shore of Wailea at Andaz or another similar resort.
WHERE TO EAT:
You can also find everything from super upscale, to farm-to-table, to locally run, to tacky beach-themed bar-n-grills, to hole-in-the-wall cheap eats. We had so many amazing meals I had created a separate blog post dedicated to the Maui dining scene.
Unless you’re on a restrictive budget, renting a car is the way to go! We've done jeeps, sedans, and convertibles, but I prefer the jeep. Not as comfortable, but you'll always be ready for off-roading opportunities. Get one with a removable top if you can.
WHAT TO DO:
While Maui is an excellent beach and resort destination, there is so much to do beyond that! After several trips to Maui, we have yet to spend a full day on a beach. I totally get that for some people that's their idea of the ideal vacation, but when I think of Maui, I think of surfing, hiking, swimming in waterfalls, epic drives, and adventure. Surf culture is huge and people are laid back. Although it's America, it's a far cry from the rigid rules (and guard rails!) of the continental states. I love the tanned skin, and Pacific Sunwear-esque clothing, and natural salt-air-dried hair. People say “right on” a lot. In addition to all the hiking and adventures to be had, it’s also nice to just take it slow, and wander. Enjoy leisurely strolls. Leisurely meals. Have a cocktail. Maui really has it all.
Pipiwai Trail - This magical trail leads you through a bamboo forest to the Waimoku waterfall. We drove the back country way from Paia, vs. The Road to Hana, to avoid traffic. Some consider this part of The Road to Hana, as this trail shares a parking lot with the Seven Sacred Pools. But, the Road to Hana easily occupies a full day, and I don't know how anyone could fit in an 2+ hour hike on top of that. If you have the time, I recommend dedicating a seprate day to this, as the drive here will likely be a significant from wherever you choose to stay on Maui. The hike itself is 3.6 miles round trip, but can easily take 2-3 hours, as you'll want to stop and enjoy the scenery vs rushing along.
The Seven Sacred Pools, aka Oheo Gulch - Sometimes the last stop of the Road to Hana. I've never made it before much before sunset, so I recommend combining this as a full day with the Pipiwai Trail. The Seven Sacred Pools are a short hike away from a large parking lot, which is part of the U.S. National Park Service, and requires an entrance fee. Once you arrive at the pools, take your time, and if the water levels are low you can lounge in the natural rock pools. A gorgeous place to spend a few hours.
Baldwin Beach - Fantastic wide sandy beach with lots of locals. Parking is difficult on weekends. Check out the red rocks on the far west side of the beach, or better yet, park down there vs. the main entrance.
**Some consider the following sites part of the Road to Hana. But I'm grouping these as Paia/North Shore, simply because the Road to Hana cannot be done in one day, and doing these things separately, will allow for more time for your drive.
Ho’okipa Beach - This beach is gorgeous on it's own, but the best part is the green sea turtles that begin to make appearances around 11:00a (long after most tourists have begun the Road to Hana). Watch for them bobbing in the water. If you visit in the late afternoon, you can see dozens and dozens of turtles resting on the beach, which is one of the most incredible sights I've ever witnessed.
Twin Falls - A short and easy hike leads to a waterfall and swimming hole where you can cliff jump. Be sure to grab banana bread and pineapple popsicles at the stand by the parking lot.
Jaws - Between mile markers 13 and 14 on the Hana Highway. If you have a jeep, venture off road to the north, towards the overlook for Jaws Beach. This will involve a bit of (legal) driving through a sugar cane field. The terminus will be a sheer cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and Jaws Beach, a popular surfing spot that can see 30-40' waves. There's no beach here - surfers must be towed out by boat/jet ski from the west, but from the cliffs above, you'll have an amazing vantage point. Mind your timing - surfers are only out when the waves are good. In my experience, afternoon and evening is best.
Shopping in Paia - As mentioned above, Paia is the most adorable town and host to many boutiques like Sassabella and Letarte. Nearby Makawao also has an adorable boutique called Driftwood that I recommend checking out.
Sunrise at Haleakala Crater - Get up early and bundle up for a trip above to the clouds to watch the sun rise. If you're coming from the mainland, take advantage of jet lag, and do this your very first morning. Well worth the wakeup call. After sunrise, stick around for a short hike to Leleiwi Lookout. Actually, there's lots of hiking within Haleakala National Park, and though I haven't done much yet, it's high on my list. The landscape is so incredible and I always think that on foot is the best way to explore.
Poli Poli State Recreation Area and the Skyline Ridge Trail - If you have a jeep and the urge to go off-roading, this is your place. You'll be the only one there (save for a few bikers) and the scenery is unreal. You can legally drive all the way to the gate within Haleakala National Park. After driving up, my husband wanted to bike down from the summit of Haleakala (bikes can go to the very top, while cars cannot go all the way from the Skyline Ridge Trail), but I was aboslutely scared shitless, and might have to work up the courage to go next trip. A downhill trek over lava rock is a bit intimidating as I imagine one fall could crack a few bones.
Makawao Forest - Lots of hiking amongst the Hawaiian Redwoods. Worth spending a couple hours here on the trails and you'll get a glimspe of just how diverse Maui can be. If mountain biking is your thing, there are plenty of bike trails as well.
Ulupalakua Vineyards - Come for a free wine tasting and enjoy the gorgeous gardens. I couldn't resist taking a bottle of Maui Blanc home!
On the to-do list:
Maui Lavendar Farm
Leilani Farm Sanctuary
SOUTH MAUI (KIHEI/WAILEA):
SUP - In Kihei there is a great beach across the street from Maui Wave Riders, which offers hourly or daily paddleboard and surfboard rentals. This beach is perfect for the novice - the waves aren't too intimidating.
Whale Watching (can also do this from the west shore)- We did a tour with Sail Trilogy based out of Ma'alaea. Another great option is the Pacific Whale Foundation.
La Perouse Bay - rent snorkel gear from any one of the dozens of shops in Kihei and head south to explore this area.
Makenna State Park (Big Beach and Little Beach) - One of the most picturesque beaches on Maui. Park in the lot, and after a short walk through the trees, you'll emerge on Big Beach, who's soft sandy shores seem to stretch for miles. To hit Little Beach, head north over the rock formation. Bonus points for visiting on a Sunday evening, when the locals gather for a huge dance party complete with drums, drugs, and lots of nudity.
On the to-do list:
Snorkel trip to Molikini Crater
THE ROAD TO HANA:
The Road to Hana really deserves it's own dedicated blog post. It's Maui's most visited “attraction," and for good reason. While it’s a relatively short stretch of only 65 miles, the drive will take all day, as you’ll want to stop often and check out the short hikes that lead to the most glorious waterfalls and swimming holes. Plan ahead and pick and choose where you want to stop, as you'll likely run out of daylight hours and can't do it all. Also worth noting, the mile markers are a bit wonky. They start over at mile marker #16 past Paia, then jump up to 51 once you reach Hana, and go backwards if you continue on past Hana (which I recommend!). I'd recommend wearing a swimsuit with quick dry workout clothes over it, brining a towel, water shoes, flip flops and lots of snacks.
As mentioned above, if possible, I advise visiting Hoopika Beach and Twin Falls (the first stops on the road) and The Seven Sacred Pools and the Pipiwai Trail (the last stops) on separate days, if you have the time. The middle is enough to a fill a whole day, provided you take your time, stopping, exploring, and swimming at each of the unique falls/beaches.
I recommend a guidebook like this or the corresponding app to follow along, as some of the waterfalls/short hikes aren't immediately obvious from simply driving by. A guidebook/app will tell you exactly which mile markers to watch out for. Some of my favorite stops (not including Paia Town, Ho'okipa, Twin Falls, the Oheo Gulch, or Pipiwai Trail, all mentioned above) are:
Upper Waikini Falls, aka The Three Bears - Mile marker 19. It’s prettiest when there is less water flow, and the waterfalls create the most idyllic swimming hole.
Nahiku Road and Nahiku Pond - Mile marker 25. Apparently, this spot is a little controversial (which we didn't learn until after we visited). There is some debate on whether it can handle mass tourism. Right past the 25 mile marker, on the left side of the road, watch for a sharp turn leading steeply downhill. The road itself if beautiful - lush and green. You'll pass through a couple small groups of houses - respect the locals and drive slowly and quietly. At one point you'll come to a bridge closed to vehicular traffic, but if you park your car and walk a short distance, you'll be rewarded with the Nahiku Pond. This is probably my favorite swimming hole in all of Maui (except for the now off-limits Blue Pool, which we visited in 2005 before a different controversy erupted). After your swim, if you venture even further on foot to the coast, there are dramatic views in store.
Wai'anapanapa State Park (Black Sand Beach) - Mile marker 32. A great place to spend some time hiking and exploring. Beautiful lava rock beaches. Be sure to explore the little cave off to the right of the main beach.
**Reminder: After Hana (mile marker 51), the mile markers go backwards.
Be sure to continue past Hana!! Or at the very least to the Oheo Gulch/Pipwai Trail, which share a parking lot. Supposedly some rental car companies don't allow cars to drive on unpaved roads, but we've taken a small sedan all the way around the east side of the island without issue - just take it slow over the rough parts. The parts past Hana are the best parts of the road. A completely different landscape from the lush greenery of the north shore, so take your time and enjoy the vistas.
The Venus Pools - Mile marker 48.1. This spot requires walking through a cow pasture, which sounds easy enough until there are large bulls eyeing you up (!!), but once there it is worth it. Lots of local kids and lots of very dramatic cliff jumping and swimming options, all while overlooking the sea.
Huakini Bay - Mile marker 41. A short distance off road is an amazing pebble beach where the waves create the most incredible sound. I can almost guarantee you'll have this beach to yourself, save for a few locals spread out in camps. It's one of my favorite spots on Maui - so incredibly peaceful.
The General Store in Kaupo - Mile marker 35. Stop by for refreshments and to check out the antique decor. It's literally the only place to buy food/drink in the back country, so it's hard to miss.
Olivine Pools - Natural cliffs-edge, ocean-view saltwater pools, where you can swim and snorkel. We wanted to allow lots of time there for swimming and relaxing. It’s a short hike to get there (maybe 15 minutes), but pretty easy to access. I recommend shoes for this hike, though it would be possible in flip flops. When the waves are big, the cliff edges can be dangerous- we actually saw a man be taken down by a huge wave when we were there. I feared he had been swept out to sea, but luckily after several (long) seconds, I saw him stand up, and he was bleeding all over him arm and side due to be tossed into a rock. People have died here so it’s not joke. But, it’s safe if you avoid the waves.
On the to-do list in West Maui:
Snorkeling and cliff jumping at Black Rock on Kaanapali Beach
Waihe'e Ridge Trail
Kayak Olowalu & visit the plantation (which is normally reserved as a wedding venue)
Ioa Valley State Park- Serene hiking in a lush green valley. Park your car in the lot, and head towards the main trail. A short hike will lead you to a lookout. If you go past the sign that says to stay on the trail (trust me, you’ll see it up by the needle lookout area), there is a lovely and rugged-yet-obvious path that follows along a cliff edge and eventually diverts to the top of the ridge. We heard that if you hike about 1-2 hours out it leads to a farm, but we turned around 30-40 minutes in since we weren't sure we would ever find the fabled farm.